Addressing housing and homelessness

Ted Hughes, Bernie Pauly, and Budd Hall

Left to right: Ted Hughes, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness chair, Dr. Bernie Pauly, UVic nursing, and Dr. Budd Hall, director of the UVic Office of Community-Based Research.

November 2008

Guided by the input and direction of our community partners, UVic is an important part of the search for long-term solutions to issues of housing and homelessness.

No place like home

A sleeping bag in a car, an unpadded perch on a cold piece of cement, a nylon shell at a local park—this is no place like home. But a core group of University of Victoria researchers and community partners are actively working to identify tangible steps and strategies to end homelessness in Greater Victoria, with the guiding belief that finding real solutions in our city can contribute to positive approaches to homelessness across Canada.

As housing issues impact all citizens, businesses, community agencies and the various levels of government, UVic researchers from a variety of disciplines are bringing their national and international expertise to bear on Victoria’s concerns.

"Housing affordability is a huge issue in Victoria," says UVic nursing professor Dr. Bernie Pauly. "Shelters and mats are short-term solutions, and there is a desperate need for housing. Sleeping outside and having no place to call home have major consequences for physical, emotional and mental health."

Working together

Pauly and Michael Pennock of VIHA are co-chairs of the Research and Evaluation Working Group, an academic and community-based committee under the umbrella of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness formed in February 2008 as a result of recommendations by the Mayor’s Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness. The working group will identify and support the research and evaluation priorities of the coalition.

"The coalition values—and is in fact dependent on—partnership in order to achieve its collective goal of ending homelessness in the capital region," explains Jill Clements, executive director of the coalition. "UVic is critical to this success by helping us ensure evidence-based practices and solutions that work for our community and directly respond to the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. The coalition is a unique and innovative approach to solving homelessness, and partners in the private, public and non profit sectors all have a key role to play."

Pauly is also organizing a UVic Housing and Homelessness Researcher Network to convene and galvanize UVic scholars and graduate students working on or interested in community-based approaches to housing and homelessness, and to provide an inventory of UVic researchers for the community.

"This is not necessarily about doing new research," says Pauly. "I spend a lot of time in the community asking what information is needed, is there existing research that can help, are there gaps in the research and what additional research might be helpful."

More than 30 UVic researchers are already part of the university’s housing and homelessness research network. Dr. Aleck Ostry, Canada Research Chair in the Social Determinants of Community Health and Senior Scholar with the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, is conducting research on issues associated with access to food sources.

Which solutions work?

Pauly, Ostry, UVic anthropology professor Dr. Margo Matwychuk and UVic senior law instructor Deborah Curran in collaboration with the Victoria Cool Aid Society and the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria are helping to evaluate the effectiveness of transitional shelters in Victoria and the impact of transitional shelters on breaking the cycle of homelessness. "The poor and homeless have no resources," Ostry adds, "and we need to fully understand the complicated and often tortuous routes people have to follow to find food and shelter."

"The client population that we work with often feels over-surveyed," says Kathy Stinson, executive director of the Victoria Cool Aid Society. "It has been tremendously helpful working with the university and the Community Council to build an outcome measurement component into our program early on, to ensure that the process of gathering research data from our clients is incorporated into our ongoing case management requirements."

UVic social geographer Dr. Jutta Gutberlet brings international background work to the table. Gutberlet has been documenting the socio-economic contributions of informal recyclers (binners) in British Columbia and Brazil, specifically exploring how resource recovery through binning and recycling can generate income and improve the quality of life. The research indicated that 63 per cent of the surveyed binners in Victoria were homeless. She is also involved in a collaborative research project conducted in Victoria providing trailers as a homeless emergency response shelter.

Recent events at Beacon Hill Park underscore the urgency behind these research projects, as does the possibility of decreased funding from charity-based and corporate donations due to the current global economic situation.

"The university can play a neutral and brokering role for the more challenging and sometimes divisive issues associated with housing and homelessness," says Dr. Budd Hall, director of UVic’s Office of Community-Based Research (OCBR).

Fostering and nurturing external partnerships—with the United Way, transition houses, housing societies, Indigenous and other community groups, police and local government, business leaders and key social service agencies—and research projects related to local and national realities are central to finding long-term strategies that can be followed by other communities as well.

"Our larger intention is, by understanding and helping to solve our own city’s housing and homelessness crisis, we will also make a contribution to solving these issues at the national level," says Dr. Mary Ellen Purkis, dean of the Faculty of Human and Social Development and chair of UVic’s Community-Based Research Housing and Homelessness Committee.